65 Ravishing Rizpah and King David
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Join us as we endeavour to understand a tragic story in the Old Testament. We catch a picture of how they understood God and how it appeared He functions.
Ravishing Rizpah and King David
The Bible is full of stories as all history is. These stories give us vignettes on the culture and traditions of the time. This one provokes so many questions one is left gasping for breath after reading and thinking about the story and its implications. History is after all his-story. 2 Samuel 21:1-14 NLT 21 There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the LORD about it. And the LORD said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.” This is the author’s understanding which is correct according to the Blessings and Curses as stated in Leviticus 26:18-20 “And if, in spite of all this, you still disobey me, I will punish you seven times over for your sins. 19 I will break your proud spirit by making the skies as unyielding as iron and the earth as hard as bronze. 20 All your work will be for nothing, for your land will yield no crops, and your trees will bear no fruit.” Here is Jesus understanding of God and his relationship to rain and famine. Matthew 5:43-45 enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” How shall we synchronize Moses, Samuel and Jesus? One way is to say that Moses and Samuel did not understand God in his unconditional love for his creation. Another possibility is to say that when Israel was disobedient they forced away God’s protection and Satan or the devil could bring wicked results on Israel. God is blamed since this is a supernatural event and the writers were unaware of the existence of the devil until about 400 BC. 2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’[a] and hate your
The Israelites had made peace with the deceiving Gibeonites and made them labourers for Israel (Joshua 9). Although not recorded in the Bible Saul had tried to eliminate these remaining Amorite or Canaanite people. This was the plan according to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:16 After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the LORD’s people again?” David seems to think that the famine is because the Gibeonites had cursed Israel. The idea of a curse was real in the thinking of the people of this time. Today we speak of consequences rather than curses. We know that bad governance can lead to food shortages if provision has not been made for such an event. Joseph in Egypt stored food for the coming famine is an example of good governance. 4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.” “What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.” Saul was dead and Israel had the prohibition stated in Deuteronomy 24:16 “Parents must not be put to death for the sins of their children, nor children for the sins of their parents. Those deserving to die must be put to death for their own crimes.” 5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the LORD at Gibeon, on the mountain of the LORD.” “All right,” the king said, “I will do it.”
Why seven sons?
Perhaps the Gibeonites were now familiar with Israelite culture and knew about the significance of seven. The certainly would have heard about marching around Jericho seven times. Gibeon, the mountain of the Lord was where Solomon made a thousand sacrifices. (This was not where sacrifices were to be made but probably a high place where sacrifices were made to various gods (1 Kings 3:3-4). It was here that God promised to give Solomon wisdom.
Why did David agree to this request by the Gibeonites since he must have known about Deuteronomy 24:16 and because he had spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan a grandson of Saul?
It is a perplexing question. There is also the Gibeonite intention to execute them before the LORD. What was the meaning of this statement? Was it to suggest this was righteous revenge? 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the LORD. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. Saul had promised David that he could marry his eldest daughter Merab if he paid 100 Philistine foreskins for her. He brought 200 but Saul married Merab off to Adriel. Perhaps to spite David who was his enemy. Did this have anything to do with David’s decision? Merab’s sons were grandsons of Saul but the Gibeonites were happy to execute them in place of sons.
Did the fact that Rizpah was a concubine influence David’s decision to give her sons up for execution? Rizpah must have been a beautiful woman to have been Saul’s concubine. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the LORD. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest. One’s heart cannot imagine the trauma of this execution for these men’s mothers. They would have never recovered from this loss of love and hope for the future with no social security, especially for women.
We now know about the effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We also know about post infidelity stress disorder (PISD). These are caused by experiencing or observing or hearing about trauma. This disorder affects one’s brain and body physically. The amygdala is a primitive, animalistic part of the brain that’s wired to ensure survival. So, when it’s overactive as a result of trauma, it’s hard to think rationally. The prefrontal cortex, where we make decisions, is limited in function by trauma. 10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. Rizpah is devoted to her sons even in death. She becomes the inspiration or source of shame for David who makes amends by recovering the bodies of Saul and Jonathan and burying them together with these seven corpses in the ancestral tomb for the family of Kish. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed. 14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.
Why did God end the famine?
Was it because the Gibeonites were revenged on Saul? Was it because David honoured Saul and Jonathan in death? Was it because nature had run its course? Is this story an attempt to explain the cause and demise of the famine under David’s rule? El Nino and La Nina are climate patterns in the Pacific Ocean that can affect weather worldwide. Are these patterns related to morality or lack of morality on earth? In North America? In South America? In Asia?
Who caused the famine in Egypt that Joseph predicted and prepared for? Was this divine intervention to catapult Joseph into prominence? Was this prediction causation? So many questions! What do we know for certain about God’s role? I believe Jesus’ claims about God and the devil! “God gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45). “The devil steals, kills and destroys” (John 10:10). Steals our joy, kills our faith, and destroys our hope. Ian Hartley - May 2021